Amin by Philippe Faucon is an inconclusive cross-continent, cross-race contemporary migration story with one fascinating foot in Senegal and one in France.
Star-crossed Continentsby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
There’s a growing genre of films about the migrant experience in Europe and how it is developing and changing – for both migrant and indigenous communities. Take some recent films set in France and its ex-colonies, for example.
Atlantique by French female director Mati Diop premiered at Cannes this year. For the first time, it seemed, it showed the effects of the migration of young Senegalese men across the Mediterranean on the women and communities left behind in Dakar. It’s a film with a female gaze that veers off into unexpected supernatural directions.
A Season in France
Amin, inevitably, will be compared with Chadian director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s moving A Season in France, released just recently, with both having been made a while ago. Both focus on the plight of the African male migrant worker in Paris. Abbas (Eriq Ebouaney) in A Season in France is an asylum seeker from the Central African Republic, without papers and the right to reside, apparently dependent on his sympathetic white French lover Carole (Sandrine Bonnaire, Vagabond) for help. The film’s focus is on France, and a family man trying to retain his dignity in a hostile society that emasculates him.
In contrast, Amin, perhaps for the first time, gives realistic, equal weight to Europe and Africa, moving back and forth between them.
Amin (Moustapha Mbengue) has had to leave his wife and three children in his village in Senegal to work in Paris, sending back his wages to support them. They rely on him to keep working, he’s their source of income, even though they miss him and his wife would like to join him in Paris. He lives in a foyer for male migrant workers (a kind of self-contained hostel for African men that has no equivalent in the UK). He is a loving father and unhappy because he misses his family – seeing his children grow up – and, because he is away in France, his wife is the subject of village gossip that he must have a French mistress and his children are bullied by their school mates. And, in fact, Gabrielle (Emmanuelle Devos), a French woman he does a few days’ work for, does make all the running in their relationship and inveigles him into an affair.
It’s not passionate, just two decent, lonely people. Like Carole in A Season in France, Gabrielle is a genuinely kind and generous woman – in a very French way – yet somehow she’s also surprisingly naive about possible hostile reactions to their situation.
But more fresh than this are the Senegalese scenes, which vividly capture daily life in a remote village – the colours, the food, the washing-up, the dusty roads and the cohesion of the community – and the character of Aisha (Mareme N’Diaye), Amin’s wife. She’s more self-assured than she first seems, she’s in control and not afraid to speak out and asset her equality to men. She refuses to be dominated by Amin’s domineering brother in Amin’s absence, who assumes authority over her in his absence. Is this another side effect of migration? I’d like to have seen more of her.
Almost killing birds from two different African regions with one stone, director/screenwriter Philippe Faucon‘s Amin also has the subplot of a middle-aged Algerian migrant worker (Noureddine Benallouche), exploited by French employers all his life, who cannot face the truth when his French-born, educated daughter points this out to him.
Amin is a quiet but inconclusive glimpse into a contemporary situation that increasingly defines the European/African experience.
As a postscript, Ladj Ly’s rage-fuelled Les Misérables, which also premiered at Cannes this year, deals with the aftermath of migration – the poverty-stricken, run-down Parisian banlieues in which African migrant families have settled in one of the world’s most beautiful and prosperous cities, and the racism that keeps them down.
Amin premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and is released on 21 June 2019 in the UK.